In the first years of the 1890's one building project along the block of West 79th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues stood apart. Unlike the rows of speculative houses that were being constructed, No. 121 was a "one-of," commissioned by wealthy furrier Hugh E. F. Jaekel for his own residence.
In 1891 he hired the architectural firm of William Schickel & Co. to design the 25-foot wide four story and basement home. The construction costs were projected at $30,000--or around $870,000 in today's money. Completed the following year, the architects had deftly blended beige Roman brick with brownstone in creating the Renaissance Revival house.
A brownstone stoop led to the double-doored entrance below an impressive wrought iron fanlight. Carved Celtic-inspired braid framed the doorway. A two-story angled bay supported a third-floor balcony which was protected by a creative pierced brownstone railing. The panels below the bay's second floor windows morphed into a solid-walled balcony over the entrance.
|Converted to a window today, the doorway retains its original wrought iron fanlight and delicate carving.|
Hugo Jaekel was a partner in the furrier business of Asch & Jaeckel at No. 22 Waverly Place. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were married in 1874 and had five sons. In 1898 Jaekel broke ties with Asch and organized Jaeckel & Sons furrier business at No. 37 Union Square with a branch office in Leipsig, Germany. Three of his sons were involved in the business. The other two were still attending Williams College. (Interestingly, his former partner, Joseph Asch, erected the Asch Building near Washington Square which would be the scene of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911.)
In the first weeks of 1904 the family should have been focused on the upcoming wedding of Hugo Francis, Jr. But domestic troubles between his parents took center stage instead. Hugo, Sr. had moved out of the 79th Street house and now Elizabeth sued for divorce. On January 6 The Evening World ran a headline: "Wealthy Furrier Sued By His Wife." The article detailed Elizabeth's charges, saying that "on certain dates in September the defendant lived with another woman at the St. George apartments, No. 226 West Fiftieth street. The defendant's answer does not dispute the charge."
The newspaper reported that Hugo was "worth $250,000," nearly $7.5 million today. He confided to a reporter that he wished the issue would simply go away. "I am in hopes that this will go no further, and I have been informed by my three sons, who work with me, that their mother may drop the proceedings."
Hugo, Jr.'s marriage went on as scheduled. On May 3, 1904 the New-York Tribune reported "About four hundred guests attended the wedding of Hugo Francis Jaeckel, jr., and Miss Ethel Colden Trady, which took place last Saturday in All Angels' Church." The article avoided the socially-uncomfortable elephant in the room by making no mention of either Hugo or Elizabeth.
The following month Elizabeth was granted her divorce, which came with $80 a week in alimony (about $28,500 per year today). Interestingly, the title to the 79th Street house was not in Elizabeth's name, as would have been expected. Hugo retained possession and in 1906 leased it the Rev. James W. Putnam for five years at $3,000 rent. The lease had a 15-year renewal option at $3,500 per year.
Putnam operated No. 121 as an upscale boarding house. His advertisement in April that year read "High class private boarding; newly furnished; summer rates."
Rev. Putnam was now retired from religious life. He had served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Cortland, New York from 1880 to 1885, and upon arriving in New York City was made pastor of Trinity Baptist Church on 57th Street near Lexington Avenue.
In 1907 Putnam leased rooms to Civil War veteran Colonel Joseph Ernest Dye and his wife. The apparently respectable couple lived in the house for three years. Reverend Putnam found himself in court on November 13, 1911 where lawyers and a judge hoped his testimony could shed some light onto the Colonel's tangled romantic affairs.
Mrs. Susan Elson Dye had applied for a divorce--however she was not the wife Dye had been living with in the 79th Street house. According to the 75-year old woman, she had married Colonel Dye in 1865, two years after her first husband, William H. Dukehart, had divorced her. She married Dye, she said, despite a stipulation in the divorce decree that "she was forbidden to marry again." According to her, they lived together for more than 40 years, separating in 1907, just before Dye moved into No. 121 with his new wife.
To make things more complicated there was yet a third Mrs. Dye. The New-York Tribune added "In 1910 the Appellate Division declared the marriage void on the ground that Colonel Dye had a wife living when he married Mrs. Dukehart." That wife was Martha Spencer. A witness testified that in 1863 "Colonel dye, while on furlough from the war, married Martha Spencer...Colonel Dye never returned to his wife after the war, and she was killed in a railroad accident in 1883."
As for the third woman, Susan alleged that "her aged husband 'fell under the charms of another woman,' and a boarding house keeper testified to the fact," as reported in the South Dakota newspaper, The Sisseton Weekly Standard. On November 14 the jury ruled that, indeed, Susan was Dye's rightful wife and granted her a divorce. They did not support her charges that "the elderly soldier was guilty of misconduct" with the other woman who lived with him in the 79th Street house, according to the East Oregonian.
On June 9, 1917 the 73-year old former pastor died in the 79th Street residence from acute gastritis. The house continued to draw high-end boarders, like Charles F. Brinkerhoff, described by the Brooklyn newspaper the Times Union as "an importer and widely recognized as an authority on furs." The furrier had also flexed his dramatic skills. "As an amateur he played leading roles with Clara Louise Kellogg when the Brooklyn Philomathian Society was famous." The 63-year old died of a heart attack in the house on December 21 that year.
The Jaekel family sold No. 121 West 79th Street in June 1920 to the Iona Home Construction Co. "The buyer is a builder, who will remodel the structure," reported the Record & Guide. And, indeed, before the end of the year the house had been renovated into apartments.
|The renovation resulted in the loss of the stoop. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
|Silent film director and actor Herbert Brennon lived at No. 121 in the early 1920's. from the collection of the Library of Congress|
Herbert Brennon's notable films were the 1924 Peter Pan, the 1926 Beau Geste, and Sorrell and Son for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director in the first Award ceremony.
Not all of the residents were as upstanding as Brennon. In 1924 George Laruvar-Ugarte worked at the New York Public Library. The 25-year old was a native of Ecuador. On December 20 he was arrested for stealing rare books, some dating to the 15th century. The book dealer he had had sold them to had become suspicious and notified police. The crime caused them to connect him to earlier thefts from the National Geographic Society, where Laruvar-Ugarte had previously been employed. In his room at No. 121 West 79th Street investigators found "oil paintings that had been removed from their frames, etchings and engravings."
Living here at the same time were Francis J. Ryan and his wife, Virginia. The couple had fled to New York in 1924 from San Francisco where Francis was charged with robbery. The Daily News reported that a "San Francisco circular described the woman who fled with him as having one wooden leg."
On Saturday night, December 5, 1925 Francis was fatally shot "in a resort" on First Avenue--a Prohibition era term that referred most likely to a speakeasy. Two nights later a woman was pulled over for being in possession of a stolen automobile. No one at police headquarters initially suspected that the 26-year old, who identified herself as Jean Bady, was the wanted Virginia Ryan.
"Mrs. Ryan wore a short skirt, sheer silk stockings and pumps. She walked with the merest suggestion of a limp." And so when she "confessed that her left leg was cork, Detective Tully of the auto squad almost collapsed." Virginia Ryan was arrested and The Daily News entitled its article "A Poem In Wood, 'Tis World's Most Beauteous Limb!"
|Despite the renovations, the stained and leaded transoms of the parlor windows survive.|
Before the fight was over Saul had bitten off the nose of his friend. Juan was taken to the Knickerbocker Hospital where his condition was deemed serious. Saul Fernandez was arrested, "accused of biting off the nose of Jacques Juan," according to the Daily News, and held on $5,000 bond "on a charge of mayhem."
Another outlandish incident happened on September 2, 1929 when Elmer Potter could not sleep. He decided that a swim across the Hudson River and back would cure his insomnia. The Daily News reported that "He went to the river at 79th st. took off his clothes and plopped in." But he over-estimated his athletic prowess. When he finally reached the New Jersey shore an hour and a half later, he was suffering with cramps in the stomach and legs.
A watchman at the coal wharf there fished out the naked 20-year old "and he was taken to the hoosegow in a patrol wagon until clothes arrived from Manhattan." The Daily News concluded its article saying "Elmer will try a powder the next time he has insomnia."
In 1935 Rev. Hozen Seki was sent from Los Angeles to New York City to establish the New York Buddhist Church of the Jōdo Shinshū sect. He moved into No. 121 West 79th Street with his wife, Satomi, and their newborn son Hoken.
On June 3, 1938 The New York Post reported "The Buddhist Church, which has about 100 members here, will open its first New York temple early next month." The article noted "Hozen Seki, who has been conducting Buddhist services at his home, 121 West Seventy-ninth Street, will be minister of the church."
Among the tenants in 1979 were actor Raphael F. Petruna. When he was selected to sit on the highly publicized trial of patrolman William R. Phillips, accused of killing two people and attempting to kill a third in an East Side brothel that year, The New York Times noted the irony that he "once played the part of a judge."
|Much of William Schickel's 1892 interior elements survive. photos via streeteasy.com|
photographs by the author